Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Questions (832, 861)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

832. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Health the action he is taking to provide support to children and families affected by the impacts of parental alienation (details supplied); the further steps he is taking to raise awareness of the problem and potential mental health impacts of parental alienation; and if he has spoken or plans to speak with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to discuss the way in which to minimise the impact of parental alienation on the health of children. [38213/20]

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John McGuinness

Question:

861. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Health his plans to deal with the issue of parental alienation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38393/20]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 832 and 861 together.

Opinions on the validity of parental alienation are divided in the international community. It is not recognised as a clinical entity by the American Psychiatric Association in its 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders. Nor is it currently recognised by the WHO in its International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems. The Department contacted the WHO in July 2020 to confirm whether or not parental alienation will be included in its updated classification, due in 2022. The Department is awaiting a response.

At present, the Department of Health has no specific health-based supports or services for parental alienation. However, health services can be accessed by anyone in the State, who, following clinical assessment, will be treated on a needs-based basis.

The Department is led by international best practice in this area and will continue to monitor any developments in this area.

As the Deputy may be aware, there is no specific legislative provision regarding parental alienation in Irish family law. Section 246 of the Children Act 2001 provides for an offence of frightening, bullying or threatening a child in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to the child's physical, mental or emotional health or wellbeing. There are legislative provisions in place to deal with child welfare particularly regarding the relationship between a child and their parents or guardians, providing the framework for a legal response to a wide spectrum of child welfare issues.

I understand that my colleague the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, and her Department are keen to examine the issue of parental alienation in greater detail. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality published a report last year on Reform of the Family Law System which includes parental alienation among a broad range of issues in the area of family law.

The Deputy may also be aware that a Family Justice Oversight Group was established recently in the Department of Justice which, in addition to Department of Justice officials, also includes representation from the judiciary, the Courts Service, the Legal Aid Board and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. The Group has been tasked with developing a family justice system, parallel to the establishment of a dedicated Family Court structure, having regard to international best practice. I understand that all of the various recommendations contained in the Joint Oireachtas Committee’s report, including the recommendation on parent alienation, will be considered in the work of that group.

With regard to the provision of mental health supports to children and families, the HSE Service Plan 2020 prioritises further CAMHS improvements, including increased integration with Primary Care; developing a 7-day-a-week service to ensure improved supports; enhancing early intervention and day hospital care; improving in-patient and community based services; ensuring greater promotion and use of talk therapies; and developing Eating Disorder and Mental Health Intellectual Disability services. Mental Health service delivery to young people will also improve through the use of such e-mental health initiatives as the recently introduced phone helpline, a new text line, and digital supports including online counselling. Mental health supports for children and families are also provided through the Primary Care Psychology Service and through a range of HSE funded community and voluntary groups. Further improvements for the planning and delivery of mental health services for children and young people will be progressed in the context of the implementation of the new mental health policy, Sharing the Vision, along with the updating of the Mental Health Act 2001 which is now well advanced.

Question No. 833 answered with Question No. 769.